My story: Olivia

image1.jpg

I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 1973 when I was a baby, which means I have lived with my condition for 45 years. My diabetes is an auto-immune disease, which means I used to need to inject insulin six times a day, every day. Now I use a pump and a continuous glucose monitor (CGM). This means I have around-the-clock insulin via a tiny pump - like the ones in hospital - and blood sugar readings via a sensor in my skin. Because of this, I have not needed an ambulance or used A&E. 

People can die from diabetes so things need to be kept in balance, which is heavy on mental health.

Then, five years ago I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). This is another auto-immune, life-long condition that affects the central nervous system with different people experiencing different symptoms. My MS causes me to get tired if I have a busy day. For example, yesterday I met with a friend and we shared tea and chatted for hours, then I travelled home. Later, I fell asleep on the couch mid-afternoon. 

When I get ill like a cold or flu, my symptoms can increase so I can get more unbalanced. I don’t have night vision any more so need to switch the light on for activities like using the toilet in the middle of the night. My symptoms can also increase when I'm really stressed.

Both of these conditions have various medical effects on my body, which has resulted in me working part-time, so I can have a good work/life balance. They can also affect each other - if my blood sugar is too low or too high, I get more unbalanced. 

From a mental health perspective, it's been hard. As a young child, I was told my organs would start failing at 20 years old and that I would die by the age of 30. These were some of the views from the 1970s. I was also told I couldn't have children, get married or study at university. That is very frightening to grow up with. I've also had complications with my health - I have had 45 laser surgeries, I have nerve damage so I have to take pain medication, I have stage three kidney disease, and I've had a mini-stroke. 

There is also the aforementioned MS. These complications include fatigue, unbalance and memory loss when I'm tired. I have early stage relapsing-remitting MS so I also take medication three-days-a-week for life. The medicine feels like a bee-sting for about 30 minutes. I am also more prone to infections; I have had two bouts of septic shock and once had a cold that ended up as pneumonia. 

All of this can be tough to deal with.  I developed Dysthymia or persistent depressive disorder (PDD), which causes long-term low-level depression when I was a teenager. I had two bouts of diabulimia - an eating disorder that type one diabetics are prone to - that was also in my teens and late 20s. 

I have recovered now from that. My diabetes is in much better control and I eat normally. I decided to create a bucket list, which included traveling, studying at university, getting married and having two children. Right now, I work as an online psychotherapist - travelling distances means I can get fatigued - and to keep me at my best for work, I have adjusted how I work so my clients get me at my best. 

My support network has been amazing - my husband and children, my dad, NHS staff including diabetic doctors and DSN nurses... the list could go on. And all I things I was told I couldn't do, I can. I'm glad that diabetics are not told scary things like I was - they're just untrue.